My son was the Religion Feature Writer for The Vacaville Reporter before the plunge into Graduate School and Stay-at-Home Dadhood. He had the pleasure of interviewing clergy from all sorts of religious backgrounds, and I must say that talking to him about his articles was often the highlight of my week. When he interviewed a Hindu Swami and learned about the yogic idea of the different paths to God, I was very excited to be able to have a discussion on the subject.
When I say different paths to God, I don’t mean different religious practices for God, although Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Yogaville where I attend yoga school, would argue that there is “one Truth, many paths.” That is not what I am talking about.
Remembering that yoga is a scientific blueprint to a spiritual attainment regardless of your religious affiliation, these paths are merely different avenues one can take--the one best suited to his or her personality to have union (yoga) with the Supreme Source, which for most of us is God.
Karma Yoga is one of those paths. This path means to devote oneself to unselfish duty and to do that duty for the glory of God alone. That word, unselfish, is most often understood as unremunerated. But if you’ve ever been in a volunteer situation, and it has done more for you than anyone else, you’ve experienced Karma Yoga. If, on the other hand, you can’t understand why you are underappreciated when people do not notice all that you have done, unselfishly, then Karma Yoga is not for you. The nice thing about this is that it’s OK. Volunteering is not for everyone, because there is another path which you would be better suited for.
Perhaps your forte is in knowledge of scriptures. Perhaps you cannot read enough spiritual literature, constantly searching for spiritual wisdom and conversation. Then your path is Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. If, on the other hand, the scriptures bore you to death, Jnana Yoga is not for you. It’s OK.
Maybe you are a physical person, and you like the physical purification of Hatha Yoga. After a couple of miles running and a fairly strenuous round of Hatha Yoga, maybe then you can settle in for a time of meditation and prayer. This was my path for years. This is, perhaps, the most Western way to approach spirituality. But if you hate to sweat or fear physical sensations, then your path would follow another direction. That's OK.
Or maybe your path is loving devotion to God, which is Bhakti Yoga. Maybe you love to write about God or make music about God, write poetry or simply see God’s presence in everything around you. This path is Bhakti Yoga. On the other hand, if you think “seeing God’s presence in everything is foolishness", which, I swear this is true, a Pastor once said this to me in Bible class, then your path to God might not be Bhakti Yoga. That's OK unless your vocation might be religious ministry.
Some people will add Japa Yoga into this list, and I think it is entirely appropriate to do so. As people who practice Centering Prayer will tell you, repeating a Sacred Word or a Mantra will lead the practitioner into meditation and even into spiritual bliss. Japa Yoga is simply repetitive prayer. The one I think I've used is the most is, "Please fix things," but I've met other people who are incredible Japa Yogis. They can sit in meditation or complete a difficult task all the while silently repeating their Sacred Word or Mantra. It keeps the mind from clinging to places where it should not. Quite a discipline!
Raja yoga, the eight-limbed yoga or ashtanga (little a) yoga is what Patanjali’s Sutras are all about. Hatha yoga is one of the steps to Raja Yoga, but is also a path in its own right. My Raja Yoga teacher at Yogaville (www.yogaville.org), says Raja Yoga is royal yoga. She doesn’t ever have to say it outright, but she believes Raja Yoga is top of the line, and Raja Yoga is better than all the rest. My yoga trainings are deepest in Raja Yoga, because Yoga Alliance requires Raja Yoga for its 200-level registration. It has been more difficult for me to grasp than the other paths because it is inclusive of many other paths, but the rewards are well worth the effort. For me it is a complete yoga.
I think that each person has a “bent” toward a specific path but dabbles in all the paths. My life has been mostly Hatha Yoga, but I’ve gone through stages where I cannot read enough spiritual literature. I still get all glossy-eyed when I talk about the Bhagavad Gita. Did you know that Thoreau was very familiar with this ancient work? And I’ve had great fun volunteering. Most of the time I’ve gotten more out of it than I have deserved. And sometimes I have seen beyond this temporal reality into something inexplicable. That can be magnificently disturbing. But these are phases in my life whereas the physical has been constant.
As I’ve looked back on my life I understand how I’d always leaned toward the Hatha Yogi’s path. It’s undeniable. I was one of the few, very few high school girls who liked PE. Loved hurdles, volleyball and was way too competitive in kickball in elementary school. Loved skating. In college I studied and taught ballet and loved the sheer athleticism of the Vaganova technique. Then got plenty of exercise keeping up with two active boys as they grew to teens. When my older son started climbing, I got climbing shoes and a climbing belt. Even entered a competition. And when my younger son started running cross country and track, I started running too, and I didn't stop until recently (knees), though my son stopped after college. I’ll still climb a tree if the opportunity presents itself. Interestingly, I’ve never been much for football, basketball, and baseball—the big three. Too many rules, exceptions and room for error. Too much Jnana Yoga for me. That's OK.
The physical has always fulfilled who I am, made me marvel at God’s work in this wonderful contraption we call the body. The body and mind have the ability to do amazing things. As I have aged, however, that physical is moving towards a different path. I cannot really define that path yet, but realizing the nature of my journey has made it easier to move deeper into the woods.
Looking back to discover the truth of the present can make the future much less uncertain. So my suggestion is this: If you haven’t already looked into how God has fascinated you for most of your life, figure that out. A pattern usually emerges. You could very well find which path meshes with your life. And suddenly the Divine in all its manifestations becomes quite real, leading into places you have never contemplated.